Frank's Plantation

It was envisioned as a well-planned community in a rural setting. Too bad long-time mayor Frank Veltri couldn't make it happen.

But no dire prediction was heard from Plantation city officials, including Veltri, who says he was an early believer in Gulfstream. City leaders had several reasons to join in with the company, the most pressing of which was that the area -- though it was part of Pancoast's master plan -- hadn't officially been annexed yet. There was a possibility that it could be taken by the City of Sunrise, remain unincorporated, or incorporate into a city itself. Veltri and other Plantation officials were also enamored with the tax base the growth would bring to the city.

"I could see nothing but pluses for the city," says James Ward, who was Plantation's mayor from 1969 to 1971. "We knew we had to have control of it ourselves or anything could happen.... Of course it was different from everything we had been doing."

Veltri made his run for mayor in 1974, and that was the only year he ever took monetary campaign contributions. Even then, he says, he accepted less than $100, which is certainly one of the more remarkable aspects of Veltri's remarkable political career. But the two contributors who did manage to give to him were heavyweights: the Peters family and Gulfstream.

"Fred [T.] Peters called me and gave me his checkbook and said, 'Write the check,'" Veltri says, adding that he accepted only $25. "Then Gulfstream took me to lunch and wrote me a check for the maximum at the time [$1000], and I kept $50 of it and sent the rest back."

The game of give-and-take between Veltri and developers had begun.

When his stovetop burst into flames some 20 years ago, Mayor Veltri grabbed a pan of boiling olive oil that spilled out and scalded his hand raw. The "spaghetti night" -- which Veltri called those evenings when he had his closest friends over and cooked for them -- had gone terribly awry.

"You want to know how tough Frank Veltri is?" asks Allan Minter, the chief developer for Gulfstream whom Veltri invited to that spaghetti night years ago. "He walked out into the back yard and took an aloe plant and rubbed it on his hand and finished the night out -- and was a good host, too. I would have been screaming and running out of that house as fast as I could go to an emergency room. I never met a tougher guy, and I used to be a Marine paratrooper."

Minter, who maintained a good reputation through his decades of working with Gulfstream, was one of Veltri's Gulfstream friends. Another was Emerson Allsworth, one of Broward County's most distinguished felons, a former lobbyist for the Gulfstream company, and the current representative of several developments in the Gulfstream area and the rest of Plantation.

Allsworth, a former state representative, is the go-to guy for business owners in Plantation who need changes in zoning or city codes in order to operate in the city. Allsworth, who worked closely with Veltri's administration, routinely convinces council members -- almost all of whom are recipients of Allsworth campaign contributions -- to make the changes. In Veltri's last city council meeting, for instance, Allsworth and his law partner William Laystrom lobbied the council to have the rules changed to allow a school in a strip mall and three fast-food restaurants on Broward Boulevard. "We've enjoyed a great relationship over the years," Allsworth said to Veltri at the meeting.

That relationship, Veltri says, wasn't affected by Allsworth's federal conviction on charges of laundering millions in drug money in 1992 or an earlier indictment, later dropped, for his alleged role in an extortion scheme involving former Sunrise mayor John Lomelo -- who was convicted -- and a nursing home company Allsworth was representing. Allsworth now says his past legal problems are "ancient history."

Veltri says he felt sorry for Allsworth, who lives only a few blocks from him, during the indictments and the conviction. The two men continued to have lunch together, and Veltri kept alive a spirit of cooperation between Allsworth and the city. "Emerson is a good development guy, and he's good at working both sides and cleaning up glitches," Veltri says. "I'd hire him in a minute if I needed him."

Veltri did hire another former Gulfstream official, Arnold Ramos, as an engineering consultant for Plantation. Since the early '80s, Veltri had also appointed Ramos to various city boards, and the powerful engineer is currently chairman of Plantation's planning board. Ramos' company, Keith and Schnars, is the city's paid traffic consultant and, on occasion, its general engineering consultant. Neither Veltri nor Ramos says he sees any conflict in Ramos' approving plans as a city official that his company may later be paid to work with as an engineer.

"If he does a good job, you use him," Veltri says.
Ramos, like Allsworth, has been in trouble in the past, too -- he was indicted while serving as Plantation's planning chairman for allegedly bribing the mayor of Sarasota to support his engineering projects.

His career began in the Florida Department of Transportation then led to Gulfstream, where he remained five years before starting his own engineering company (which also contracted with Gulfstream developers). The new company, Mid South Engineering, was twice implicated in scandal, once for overbilling the state on road projects, which led to a felony conviction for one of its vice presidents, and later for payments the company made to the Sarasota mayor, Ronald Norman. Norman was convicted of accepting bribes. The indictment against Ramos was dropped after the state failed to tie him directly to the payments. Ramos steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and at the time said the payments were consultant fees.

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